Today people take photographs of their friends and relatives with cameras and even mobile phones.  The only pictures that we have of people who lived before cameras were invented were ones that were drawn or painted.

Portraits tell us what the people in them looked like but they can also tell us much more than that. They can tell us whether the people were rich or poor. They can often tell us about how some people lived such as the fashions and hairstyles they wore. Only wealthy people could afford to pay an artist to paint their portrait. They would usually wear their finest clothes for the occasion. So portraits do not necessarily tell us what people wore everyday but what their best clothes were like and how they wanted people to see them. Although people who lived in the past looked quite different from how people looked today, perhaps we have not really changed that much. People still like to dress up in their favourite clothes if they are having a special picture taken.

Some artists chose to paint pictures of ordinary people.  Their work can tell us about the everyday lives of people who could not afford to pay a portrait artist.

A Frugal Meal A Social Eddy


  1. Dress up in your favourite clothes and paint a portrait of yourself, or ask a friend to dress up in their favourite clothes, and you could paint their portrait.
  2. Look at the fashion timelines to see how fashions have changed over time. Which clothes do you like best? Which look most comfortable? Would you like to have worn any of them?
  3. Look at the picture of  A Frugal Meal and A Social Eddy (or 'Left by the Tide'). Compare the two scenes and the clothes featured in both.  One painting is of a poor scene and the other, wealthy.  How do you know which is which?
  4. Look again at each picture and write down ways the lives of the little girl and one of the older girls in the other painting might have been.